A Christmas Gun

Montgomery M. Folsom in 1889 sketched a Christmas scene from in old Berrien County in which he reminisced about his boyhood desire for a “Christmas gun.”

Montgomery Morgan Folsom (1857-1899) Montgomery M. Folsom was the eldest son of Dr. James Roundtree Folsom and Rachel Inman Swain. He was a grandson of Randal Folsom and great grandson of Lawrence Armstrong Folsom, one of the pioneer settlers of Lowndes County, GA. On his mother’s side he was a grandson of Sarah Wooten and Morgan G. Swain, early residents of Troupville, GA.

Montgomery Morgan Folsom (1857-1899)
Montgomery M. Folsom was the eldest son of Dr. James Roundtree Folsom and Rachel Inman Swain. He was a grandson of Randal Folsom and great grandson of Lawrence Armstrong Folsom, one of the pioneer settlers of Lowndes County, GA. On his mother’s side he was a grandson of Sarah Wooten and Morgan G. Swain, early residents of Troupville, GA.

In the antebellum plantation Christmas, according Marion Harland in The Christian Union,

The ‘Christmas gun’ was a big tree -oak or hickory- a cavity of which, natural or artificial, was plugged with powder and touched with a match. Guns and pistols were discharged in quick succession; canisters and bottles filled with gunpowder were set off under barrels and hogsheads. Everything that could explode and reverberate was brought into jubilant action. ‘Christmas comes but once a year’ was a formula that palliated disorder and excused hubbub… [At] midnight of Christmas Eve…as the clock tolled twelve… the simultaneous roar of the Christmas gun and the scattering detonations of smaller artillery which were kept up until sunrise. 

Given Folsom’s birth date of 1857, this memoir appears to describe Christmas during the Civil War seen through the eyes of a young boy ignorant of the work required to prepare for such a celebration.  His mentions of African-Americans participating in the Christmas celebration are pejorative references to his grandfather’s slave “Uncle Mose” and to the young slave boys,  children of slaves, the Christian Union said, for whom “The nominal holiday meant, for the domestic and stable staff, a week of incessant occupation – cooking, serving, cleaning, much grooming, harnessing, and driving, infinite hewing of wood and drawing of water.

Ragged Reminisences

How Grandpa Got Away With Me on the Christmas Gun.

Oh, I did want a Christmas gun so bad!

For weeks before Santa Claus had started on his rounds I was forever hanging round.

“Grandpa, how much do guns cost? Grandpa, can’t I buy a Christmas gun? Grandpa, get me a gun.”

The old gentleman must have got mighty tired of it, but I lived in hope if I died in despair.

In those days there were various ways of firing Christmas guns. Down at the shop Uncle Peter was able to make a pretty horrible explosion by spitting on the anvil, laying a piece of red hot iron on it and striking it a sharp blow with the big hammer.

I did not understand the reason for this at that time, but age and experience have informed me that it was the steam generated between the spittle and the hot iron. Now, if some other smart fellow would come along and explain to me just how comes steam to make a racket of that sort I shall be a wiser if a sadder man.

I guess it is on the same principle of a pop-gun, but I swear I’ve never correctly understood the principle of a pop gun, yet, I suppose like the Grecian philosopher, that with a gun long enough and a pusher strong enough, a fellow could make a tumultuous noise in the world.

Then there was another sort of a gun that was a rip roarer, but it was rather expensive. That was to bore an inch auger hole in a tree, drive a peg in the hole with a groove in it for the train, and put powder in the hole. The way we fired it was by laying a nice little train of powder, putting some shavings and scraps of cotton on it, setting the shavings afire, and then retreating to a safe distance.

This was a pretty good sort of a gun its own self, and it always reminded me of a story – a very funny story – that grandpa used to tell us about an Irishman who had an aching tooth.

The Irishman, according to grandpa’s version, put powder in the tooth, touched fire to it and ran.

With the full white light of modern research, and the gigantic strides of scientific investigation, I am led to believe that the Irishman was a myth and the whole story a hoax, but I believed it then, and I was happy.

I knew General DeLoach once swinged his eyebrows off and loosened his front teeth, fixing a train for one of those explosions, but the general had wet his eye so often that his vision was bad that day, so grandpa said.

I did want a gun so bad.

I made life exceedingly interesting for grandpa on the gun question.

But grandpa had some sense, and he waived the plea and I got no gun, although I got a good many other very nice things, among them a rag doll that affected my spirit sorely, for above all things I hated for anybody to suppose that I was not thoroughly masculine in all my preferences and predilections. I suppose I might have been a more useful citizen had I never changed my notions.

Old Christmas – you know that comes just twelve days after new Christmas – was a bright and beautiful day. On the night before I had sat on a log and shivered for half an hour to see if the sheep all got down on their knees, as folks said they did, on old Christmas eve. That is a superstition, you know, and they further allege that the black ones get up on their legs and the white ones kneel on the ground. I don’t know about that.

By sun up, and before the frost had melted from the woodpile, a dozen big fat hogs were being scraped and scalded, and we were busy getting the sausage mill ready, and preparing for a hog-killing time.

Then when they were swung up, we boys stood around and claimed melts and bladders. We wanted the melts to broil and the bladders to blow up. I laid siege to the big blue barrow, and stood guard over him for three mortal hours, getting in everybody’s way, and prancing around and cutting up generally, for fear of losing my rights.

It was royal fun to sharpen a twig and string a slice of melt on it and hang it over the glowing coals until it was done, and have it nicely seasoned with a pinch of salt.

I guess I could tackle one with undiminished gusto even unto this day. It was the lingering taint of the savage taste cropping out in our blood, and aided and abetted by the little negroes who were not far removed from the condition of their Hottentot ancestry, after all.

But after the feast was over we began on the bladders. It was a matter of personal pride with us to see who could blow up the biggest. We would blow and blow till our eyes stuck out like pot legs, and we would beat and bang them to make them stretch, and then we would brag about who had the biggest. I blew up the biggest bladder I ever saw that day. It was the big blue barrow that furnished me the material, and I was awful proud of it.

Grandpa, he kept eyeing it, and I noticed that the old gent was in high good humor. He held a conversation with Uncle Mose, and afterwards I could see that Uncle Mose was tickled half to death, and he would keep slipping, and sliding, and snickering around, and every now and then I would hear a half suppressed, “Jesus, Marster!”

They were plotting my downfall, but I, in my childish innocence, went on my way rejoicing.

John Exom had given me an old ramshackle of a flint and steel gun, with only a remnant of stock, and no lock at all. The old thing was rusty, and choked up, and looked like it had been lost in time of the Revolution.

I wanted to get the thing cleaned out, but in spite of all the washing and rubbing and scrubbing I could do, it remained plugged up. When I asked Uncle Peter about it he said I’d have to burn the rust out of it, and while they were finishing up the hogs I embraced the opportunity to clean out my gun. I thrust the breach into the dying embers, and left it while I worked at the bladder.

While I was tying it up securely Grandpa came up to me, whetting the big butcher knife.

“Well, my boy, you’ve got a big Christmas gun now.”

“Jesus, marster!” snickered Uncle Mose, who was standing near, with his back to us.

“Yes, sir, I’m gwine to save it till next Christmas.”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t do that. To-day’s old Christmas, and that is just as good as new Christmas. Put it down and jump on it hard, now, and let us see what a gun you can shoot.”

“Oh, no, sir, I can’t,” said I.

“Jesus, marster,” whispered Uncle Mose under his breath.

“Why, yes you can. See here, do it this way,” He laid the bladder down near a puddle that had been made in scalding the hogs. He fixed his feet carefully, and went on to explain: “Now, draw in a long breath, place your feet carefully, jump away up—.—”

‘ Slam—bang!—splash!”

“Jesus, marster! Oh, I’m shot!” squealed Uncle Mose, as he jumped up and down and rubbed himself.

Everything was confusion, and as the smoke rose Grandpa picked himself up from the mudhole, with the remains of the bursted bladder clinging to his pants.

“What in the name of common sense is the matter, Moses? Was it loaded?”

Then he saw the old gun barrel smoking in front of the furnace, and the hot coals scattered all around, and he took in the situation.

Uncle Mose walked half bent longer than I did, though…

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